Students Receive Send-off from Sen. Charles Schumer, Distinguished

Professor Emeritus James Willey, President Christopher C. Dahl

GENESEO, N.Y. — More than one thousand SUNY Geneseo graduates, along with their families and friends, weathered intermittent rain and graupel in an outdoor stadium on May 8 to participate in the college’s 138th commencement. The rain stopped falling over the Genesee Valley as the last graduate’s name was called, at about 12:15 p.m. The ceremony was broadcast live on the World Wide Web.

Approximately 1,200 individuals received bachelor’s degrees during the exercises, and approximately 50 graduate students received master’s degrees.

American composer and SUNY Geneseo Distinguished Professor Emeritus James Willey delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree from the State University of New York during the ceremony. Gordon Gross, a member of the SUNY board of trustees, conferred the Doctor of Music degree on Willey.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer shared brief remarks with those gathered, and told graduates that if there was ever a time to take a chance on themselves and reach deep down to see what they’re made of, the time is now. "My advice? Take the risk – don’t let the fear of failure deter you from taking a chance, from reaching your dream. If you take the risk and fail, you’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward. But if, through hard work, a little luck and some prayer, you succeed, your life will be enriched forever."

Willey was honored by SUNY for his body of work as a composer, and his dedication as a teacher and mentor to young composers. His status in the national music community has been recognized by several respected organizations, including the Yaddo Arts Colony in Saratoga Springs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Willey asked graduates to become advocates for public education and for Geneseo. "Such advocacy is empowering," he said. "Acting on deeply held loyalties in the form of letters and vigorously asserted public positions can be very useful to you, to public education, and to the educational community at Geneseo. So, do mouth off not only about education, but also about other matters affecting the body politic and the nation." He reminded the graduates about their responsibilities as American citizens, and encouraged them to vote.

Acknowledging that we live in "troubling times," he added that "if we truly are loyal to this nation and to the ideals of democracy and freedom, it is essential that we involve ourselves in the issues that confront us as citizens. First of all, we must vote, and we must stay informed and we must develop our own views on the issues confronting the nation."

Willey also spoke about the implications of technical and technological changes, both in his field of music and on a much broader scale. "The world of change this age offers to you, the graduating class of 2004, is one of unparalleled opportunity, whatever your chosen field," he explained. "Your Geneseo education, with its mix of majors and general studies, its breadth covering many fields of study, offers the possibility to pursue brand new paths, hybrids of many disciplines." He also reminded graduates to "be loyal to your capabilities and hopes, to yourself, and to those things that define who and what you are as an individual."

Willey, who retired from the college in 2000, has compiled an impressive record of compositions, recordings and publications, and has continued to compose and present premiers of new works since his retirement. Many of his compositions have been premiered or performed in prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall, Tanglewood Music Center, Steinway Hall and the Smithsonian Opera House. His works have been performed by a wide range of ensembles, including the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Esterhazy Quartet and the Tremont String Quartet.

The National Endowment for the Arts has recognized Willey with three major fellowships, and he has received numerous awards from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) between 1975 and 2003. In addition, he is listed in Contemporary Composers (1976), ASCAP Biographical Dictionary (1980), Contemporary American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary (1982), and Who’s Who in American Music, 1st Edition (1983).

Other highlights of the ceremony included remarks by SUNY Geneseo President Christopher C. Dahl and an address by Senior Class President Janelle Colosi of Canandaigua, N.Y.

In addition, the Student Association President’s Cup was presented to Jim Rogers of Kenmore, N.Y., and the Alumni Student Leadership Award was presented to Janelle Colosi. The Richard Roark Award, given annually to a student who has excelled in academics and service to the community, was presented to Daniel Schultz of Binghamton, N.Y. The Edward ’73 and Elaine ’73 Pettinella Senior Leadership Awards were presented to Mary Distasio of Warwick, N.Y., Bryan Fritz of Williamsville, N.Y, Anne Stefano of Fairport, N.Y., and Kristin Pellerite of Farmington, N.Y. Each will receive a check for $2,500.

Seniors Angela Nicolella of Lynbrook, N.Y., and Kevin Rank of Tonawanda, N.Y., presented the college with a senior class gift of $15,953.47, a portion of which will fund four $250 student scholarships and renovations to the college union patio.

The Geneseo Brass Ensemble provided music at this year’s commencement.

— 30 —